Premier League’s early ‘must sees’ from NBC Sports’ U.S. TV schedule

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The initial Premier League schedule was announced on July 11, but without solid dates and kickoff times, it was difficult to get too excited. You knew which teams had tough starts (Manchester United), which teams had it easier (West Ham), but in a double round robin league format, those quirks only matter so much. You didn’t know which early kickoffs would force you to set your alarm. You didn’t know which late starts would allow you get to the local bar. And you didn’t know which Monday games would leave you closing your web browser lest something spoil the match before you got to your DVR.

Now there are no such ambiguities, which means you not only know when you’ll need your iPhone to wake you up but also which games will be on “big NBC” (10 in the first three months) and live on NBC Sports Network (57).

All of which plays into this: Our dozen “Must See” games of the season’s first three months. Of course, depending on where your allegiances lie, you could see this list as flawed, biased, what have you. Regardless, these match highlights are sure to be near the top of each Premier League Live post-game show:

Saturday, August 17: Swansea City vs. Manchester United (NBC) – The Premier League on NBC debuts with Manchester United’s first Alex Ferguson-less match in 26 years. It will also see a Swansea team that’s added Wilfried Bony and Jonjo Shelvey try to replicate Everton’s success last season, with the Toffees handing United an opening weekend loss.

Monday, August 26: Manchester United vs. Chelsea (NBCSN) – José Mourinho returns to the place where he first made his mark in England, his slide down Old Trafford’s sidelines helping to bring his eventual Champions League-winning Porto team to the Premier League’s attention. In his second match back with Chelsea, Mourinho gets an early chance to flash the Blues’ title credentials.

source: Getty ImagesSunday, September 1: Liverpool vs. Manchester United (NBCSN) – See what I mean about United’s tough start? At Swansea, then home to Chelsea, then to Anfield for the season’s first North West Derby? David Moyes (right) has been on this side of a rivalry with Liverpool before, having just finished a long tenure at Everton, but given the Reds host Stoke and visit Aston Villa in the season’s first two rounds, the new United boss may meet a  particularly hyped Reds team on his return to Liverpool.

Sunday, September 1: Arsenal vs. Tottenham (NBCSN) – Another of the league’s most famous derbies completes this Sunday doubleheader, with the league’s North London rivals positioning themselves for another fight for fourth (and the league’s last Champions League spot). Arsenal could still buy this summer to try to distance themselves from Spurs, but in the second season of André Villas-Boas’s tenure at White Hart Lane, Spurs may be ready, should Arsenal up the ante.

Sunday, September 22: Manchester City vs. Manchester United (NBCSN) – They finished one-two in each of the league two seasons, and with Manchester City adding Manuel Pellegrini as well as Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Stevan Joevtic and Álvaro Negredo, the Sky Blues may have closed last year’s gap. Regardless, this is becoming the preeminent intracity derby in world soccer, with a Sunday affair at City of Manchester stadium sure to give both new coaches a taste of what’s currently be the league’s most-heated rivalry.

Saturday, September 28: Tottenham vs. Chelsea (NBCSN) – In the last three meetings between these London rivals, the teams have combined for 16 goals. The last two at White Hart Lane have each ended with six goals scored, nine of them by Chelsea, a symptom of the Blues’ dominance over Spurs. We’re now going on three years and seven meetings since Tottenham last upended their rivals, though in that time, only one game’s featured a clean sheet. With Gareth Bale juxtaposed against one of the most talented attacks in the league, we’re unlikely to see that March 2012, 0-0 replicated this September. Tottenham breakthrough or no, expect goals.

Sunday, October 27: Chelsea vs. Manchester City (NBCSN) – These are the two teams aspiring to dethrone Manchester United, but how they perform against each other may prove as crucial to their title hopes as their fortunes against the Red Devils. Of late, however, Chelsea have failed miserably against the Citizens, taking only one point from City over the last two seasons, failure compounded by a loss in last year’s FA Cup semifinals.

source:  Sunday, October 27: Sunderland vs. Newcastle (NBCSN) – The season’s first North East derby also serves as Jozy Alitdore’s (right) highest-profile match of fall. By late October, we’ll have a good idea of how the U.S. international’s settled under Paolo Di Danio, and if that transition proves successful, he’ll lead the Black Cats’ attack when Fabricio Coloccini and the Magpies visit their fiercest rivals.

Sunday, November 3: Cardiff City vs. Swansea City (NBCSN)  – For the first time, two Welsh teams will compete in the Premier League, with Cardiff City’s promotion bringing the South Wales derby to the top flight of English soccer. After a series of close calls in the second division, the newly red-laden Bluebirds finally earned promotion, though with their rivals expected to compete at the edges of the league’s Europa League spots, a Cardiff side that will define success by avoiding relegation is a completely fighting different battle than their rivals.

Sunday, November 10: Manchester United vs. Arsenal (NBCSN) – There’s still something special about this rivalry, one that served as the league’s marquee battle from the late nineties into the early oughts. Every year since the league began play in 1992-93, one of Arsenal or Manchester United have finished in the top two. Today, Arsenal has fallen a step behind, going eight years without a trophy, but for a generation that was brought up on Premier League soccer, United versus Arsenal will always be a must see matchup.

Saturday, November 23: Everton vs. Liverpool (NBCSN) – We have to wait over three months for Liverpool’s rivals to meet, but when they rekindle their derby at Goodison Park, the managers may garner much of the focus. New Everton boss Roberto Martinez will be facing Liverpool for the first time as Toffees’ manager, and although he faced the Reds many occasions while managing now-relegated Wigan Athletic, center stage in this rivalry will be completely different. That the coach on the opposing bench is Brendan Rodgers, a man who also used Swansea City as a springboard, adds another thin layer of intrigue to this Merseyside Derby.

Monday, November 25: West Brom vs. Aston Villa (NBCSN) – No survey of Premier League rivalries would be complete without nothing what’s happening in Birmingham, where West Bromwich Albion is redefining the West Midland’s pecking order. When they were promoted two seasons ago, it had been 32 years since the Baggies had finished about their rivals in the league table. Now they’ve done it two years in a row. After battling relegation, Aston Villa have bigger things to worry about West Brom’s success, but that success does highlight how much things have changed in Birmingham.

 

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

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A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

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However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Top Premier League story lines – Week 2

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The Premier League hits its second match day on Saturday, beginning with Manchester United’s trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City.

That match isn’t even in our top five as a pair of Top Four battles await Sunday and Monday.

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Can heated rivalry help Chelsea find its form?
Tottenham – Chelsea (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) [ STREAM ] 

The Blues took a long time to recover from Gary Cahill‘s early red card as Chelsea lost 3-2 to Burnley on Opening Day, and know they could find themselves six points behind Tottenham after just two weeks of the Premier League season. The rivalry between Spurs and Chelsea has risen several notches in the past couple years, and Chelsea will also be hampered by suspensions to Cahill and Cesc Fabregas.

Everton starts murderer’s row of fixtures at the Etihad
Manchester City – Everton (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester United: Those are Everton’s next three matches following a win over Stoke and Thursday’s Europa League win over Hajduk Split (The Toffees head to Croatia on Aug. 24). The good news, if there is any, is that Man City didn’t look terrific in its win over Brighton and Hove Albion. The bad news? Everton’s top men, aside from new boy Gylfi Sigurdsson, almost all played in the win over Hajduk.

Arsenal’s beleaguered defense heads to the road
Stoke City – Arsenal (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

The Gunners may boast wins over Chelsea and Leicester City this month, but Arsenal conceded thrice to the Foxes and needed drama to boost three points from Opening Day. Stoke fell 1-0 at Everton but was far from a pushover.

Can Town make it 2-for-2 versus the Toon?
Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ]

Rafa Benitez’s Opening Day plans were shuttered by Jonjo Shelvey‘s poor red card, and the Spaniard won’t have his best midfielder at The John Smith’s Stadium when Newcastle faces a Town team that won 3-0 at Crystal Palace. The road sides won when these two met in the Championship last season.

Liverpool’s stumbling defense meets old pal Benteke
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s men stumbled out of the gates, even if their last minute concession against Watford in a 3-3 draw arguably shouldn’t have stood up to the linesman’s view. Benteke scored twice as the Eagles won at Anfield last season, and will certainly be up for irking his old boss once more.

VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna stars for USYNT with goal, assists

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Seldom is a U-15 match truly worth national attention, but it certainly deserves eyes when the player who stars in the Stars and Stripes happens to be the son of USMNT royalty.

Giovanni Reyna is going to be known as Claudio Reyna’s son for some time, but if he keeps up starring roles like his goal and two assist performance against Panama in the CONCACAF U-15 Championship, Claudio will move into “Giovanni Reyna’s dad” status at some point.

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That’s way down the line considering “Dad” is an American pioneer with 112 caps, eight goals and a career with Manchester City, Rangers, Sunderland, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, and New York Red Bulls, but worth noting nonetheless.

Reyna’s goal was an absolute stunner:

And here are his two assists, putting Mexico on notice for Saturday morning’s final.